“Over 50 percent of children below five years in India are underweight. And, escalating food prices have ensured that the poor constantly reduce their intake. Yet, we lag way behind in adopting technology, while countries with surplus and relatively inexpensive food continue to embrace it,” said B. Sesikeran, Director, National Institute of Nutrition (NIN).
He was delivering the award-winning Srinkatia Memorial Lecture on ‘Technology for better nutrition' – at the 43rd National Conference of the National Society of India on ‘Economic Transition in Nutrition' – at the NIN campus, here on Saturday.
“Innovation in food technology is mandatory to ensure food security in our country. It is now time to move from green revolution to a gene revolution,” he said.
Pointing out that 29 countries and 15.4 billion farmers have benefited through transgenic technology, he said that India is on the wrong track, ignoring advantages of transgenic crops. With persistent decrease in cultivable land, he said that only improved farm practices, breeding and biotechnology can enable a 250 per cent growth in food production, while avoiding them will contribute to a mere 50 per cent growth.
Even as the economy is on the rise and cost of living is increasing, unhealthy foods are becoming cheaper and there is significant fall in the intake of cereals and pulses, he informed. Genetic modification can ensure that proteins, vitamins and minerals are enhanced in foods that the poor can afford. “Bio fortification of energy rich staple foods uses systemic plant breeding or genetic techniques to develop micronutrient rich staple food. It has the advantage of being low cost and has regional appropriateness,” he said.
While acknowledging the risks that Genetically Modified (GM) crops may pose, he said that the ratio of benefits from the crops outweigh their risks a great deal. “We are consuming mutated crops for decades. The panic about them, however, is new found. That millions in other countries are eating GM crops, after risk assessment, and are healthy is testimony that the crops are safe,” added. The need of the hour is to produce more food from less land, less water and less labour; and in a sustainable manner.